Given the ubiquitous nature of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), the materials and methods that have been historically used to conduct environmental investigations may result in cross-contamination and false positives when collecting samples for PFAS — opening your project up to scrutiny, potentially bringing your data into question and increasing overall project costs.

At Burns & McDonnell we understand the sensitive nature of PFAS and employ measures to avoid cross-contamination and false positives during the sample collection process. Here are a few do’s and don’ts we like to keep in mind while sampling for PFAS:

Sampling Do’s

  • Confirm that a PFAS-free water source is used for decontamination and drilling fluids. This is particularly important when working in a municipality where the public water supply may be affected.
  • Only wear clothing that has been washed six times prior to use in the field.
  • Utilize field blanks, equipment rinsate blanks and trip blanks to assess data quality and notify project staff of potential cross-contamination or false positives.
  • Triple-rinse sampling tools and sampling equipment with distilled water following decontamination procedures.
  • Use only PFAS-free materials when working on a PFAS site, such as high density polyethylene (HDPE) or polypropylene. When necessary, contact vendors for certification that materials are PFAS-free.
  • Wash hands frequently and don a new pair of nitrile gloves between samples, after coming in contact with suspected PFAS-containing materials, between sample locations and immediately before collecting samples for PFAS analysis.
  • Utilize written Standard Operating Procedures or project work plans to clearly identify precautions to be taken by field personnel when sampling for PFAS.
  • Use HDPE sample containers unless specifically instructed otherwise by the project laboratory.

Sampling Don’ts

The following activities may impact sample integrity and could potentially result in sample contamination and the occurrence of false-positives:

  • Do not use any materials that contain Teflon™ — a material known to contain PFAS.
  • Do not allow food on site. Many common food packaging items could potentially contain or have been treated with PFAS or similar compounds.
  • Do not wear clothing or boots that have been treated to be water-resistant. If sampling in the rain, PVC rain gear may be used.
  • Do not use water-resistant paper, labels, self-sticking notes, aluminum foil, or blue-gel ice packs as these products have the potential to contain or be coated with PFAS or similar compounds.
  • Do not use Tyvek.

PFAS are classified as emerging contaminants and have been investigated since the late nineties. Following U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s May 2016 Health Advisory concerning PFAS, private industry, government organizations and the military are seeking smart, proven processes to help tackle this challenging issue as regulations continue to unfold.

While PFAS have been widely phased out of production in the U.S., their historical use has resulted in the contamination of soil, groundwater and surface water bodies, potentially creating environmental liabilities for entities that used, transported and/or disposed of PFAS. To understand the origins of PFAS and develop an efficient plan to address it, you need a partner who understands both environmental cleanup and your industry.

Emerging contaminant regulations may be unclear, but our track record isn’t. Over our 118-year history, our team has helped hundreds of clients define, assess and solve challenges that result from emerging contaminants and new regulations. Interested in learning more? Check out our views on proactive solutions for PFAS or connect with me on LinkedIn.

With more than 25 years of experience in client management, business development and operations, Raghu Arora is a chemical engineer serving as a federal business manager for Burns & McDonnell.